Teachers' contract approved

Newport-Mesa Unified School District trustees unanimously approved a one-year contract with teachers during Tuesday's board meeting, ending months of contentious negotiations.

Before the board's approval, 94% of the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers membership had voted to ratify the contract, said John Caldecott, executive director of human resources and chief negotiator for Newport-Mesa Unified School District.

"I think everybody was pleased with the outcome," he said. "It's a successful conclusion to all the issues that were pending in negotiations."

The union, which represents 1,080 employees, had been without a contract since June 30. The new contract is retroactive to July 1.

Rising healthcare costs, increased class sizes and arbitration — how disputes are handled between the union and the district — were some of the most fervently debated issues during negotiations this year, said Kimberly Claytor, president of the federation.

"I am pleased that we were able to maintain benefits," said Nicholas Dix, executive director of the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers. "I think that overall was the greatest victory for us."

The healthcare debate began when Anthem Blue Cross, the district's medical plan provider, raised premiums 6%, Caldecott said.

The union and the district began to discuss who would be responsible for the additional cost.

In June, employees agreed to take on higher individual costs in the form of co-pays and deductibles to reduce the expected per-monthly cost of their health insurance to 3% from 6%. In exchange, after months of negotiation, the district agreed to pick up the remaining 3% rate increase for medical benefits, which amounts to $700 per employee for the year.

"In negotiations, we felt the employees picked up half the increases, so the district should pick up the other 3%," Claytor said. "In the end, that's how it went."

Swelling class size was another sticking point. The district originally proposed an increase of 10 students per teacher, which would have required every middle and high school teacher to be responsible for 190 students per year.

"We beat back that proposal," Claytor said.

Instead, the union agreed to give the district five extra days at the beginning of the school year to work out scheduling issues so that the maximum 180 students per teacher could be maintained.

"We did agree to increase the time from 20 days to 25 days, but that doesn't mean we think it's a good idea," she said. "We really don't think the district needs that much time, but that's what they wanted so we gave it to them."

However, arbitration was one term of the contract the district refused to change.

Arbitration is a major issue for the union, Dix said.

The union sought binding arbitration, which allows an unbiased third party to make a recommendation in the event the district and union can't resolve a dispute. The third party recommendation would have to be accepted by both parties, Dix said.

Newport-Mesa currently uses advisory arbitration, under which the district and union can seek advice from a third party but the district isn't forced to adopt any recommendations without school board approval.

Caldecott said it's important to the district that the board have final approval.

"The board wants to maintain the final step of the process in interpreting the contract that affects Newport-Mesa," Caldecott said.

However, Dix interprets that as giving the district an unfair advantage in negotiations.

"It's like asking the fox to watch the henhouse," he said.

Caldecott said the district hasn't been forced to go into arbitration with the union in his nine years with Newport-Mesa.

Dix predicts that the issue will continue to be discussed in future contract negotiations.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World